Twelve or eighteen months ago I wrote a couple of articles about the always difficult subject of autoeroticism (i.e. masturbation). This is a subject I hesitate to write about and yet one that I feel is both important and relevant. It is a subject that takes us outside of our comfort zones but hiding our heads in the sand and pretending it is not a real problem is almost unfair. I have had opportunity in recent days to speak to young men and to hear about the struggles they face. And I know that this is a near-universal struggle. I was recently convicted that if the church won’t speak out about this issue, no one will.
This is the type of issue that I suspect only Christians really wrestle with. It is an issue that our culture regards as irrelevant. To question the morality of masturbation is folly to those who accept and seek to honor no higher authority. “If it feels good, do it!” is the wisdom of our age. But this is no wisdom at all. I know that many Christians have questions about this issue and are troubled by it. And hence I will write about it again in the hope that it can help Christians understand God’s design for sexuality.
In what I anticipate will be a two-part article I would like to bring a biblical perspective to autoeroticism, or the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself. The Bible is silent on explicit discussion of the subject of autoeroticism. There is no place in Scripture where we will find a clear statement allowing or condemning the practice. Thus we have to begin our study by attempting to come to a biblical understanding of sexuality – God’s purpose and design in human sexuality. Once we understand this we will have a foundation upon which we can build an understanding of autoeroticism.
God’s Design for Sex
We will begin by providing the groundwork for a theology of sex. This is a topic that could consume as much time and space as we chose to give it, so we will discuss it only briefly. Consider this nothing more than a framework. Much of the following was drawn from Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. Much of that book is available as a chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. Both books are well worth reading.
A Gift From God
Andy Warhol said, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Andy Warhol was dead wrong. Sex is a gift of God and it is inherently good because the God who gave us sex is good. God created us in such a way that sex is a natural part of what it means to be human. We glorify God when we use this gift in the way God intends and when we use it to His glory. In Genesis 2 we read about the creation of a woman. After God gave Eve to Adam the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is God who designed sex and who gave it to us. It is a good gift and one that must be used as the Creator intends.
When God gave sex to humans, He provided a restriction. He decreed that sex is to be enjoyed only within marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). God gave us this restriction not to be burdensome, but to increase the pleasure and intimacy found in God-glorifying sex. As the creator of sexuality, He was free to place any restrictions He felt necessary. And thus, so that we could benefit from sexuality in the way He intended, He placed this simple restriction on it.
For Our Pleasure
God created sex to be pleasurable. What more evidence do we need than the clitoris, a part of the body that has only one function – to receive and transmit sexual pleasure. And not only is sex pleasurable, but it is mutually pleasurable, allowing the husband and wife to give and receive pleasure at the same time. This leads to mutual sexual fulfillment. A servant’s mindset is crucial in the marriage bed so each partner primarily seeks after the interests of the other. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). Sex is pleasurable because God made it to be pleasurable. We are not to feel guilty or burdened by sexual desire or by sexual pleasure.
Humans are not entirely capable of comprehending the depth of intimacy brought about by sexual union. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to speak of the deep, intimate knowledge brought about by sex. God also speaks of the husband and wife being of “one flesh” through this act. Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Marital sex is the pinnacle of human bonding. It is the highest form of the communication of love – a language that expresses love without words. It calls forth the deepest, most powerful emotions. It creates intimacy within marriage like nothing else. In fact, as we give and receive the gift of lovemaking, this intimacy will grow stronger and more precious as the years go by. Each encounter will lead us to a deeper ‘knowing’ of the one we love” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 107). One of God’s deepest purposes in creating sex was to use it to bond husband to wife and wife to husband. It is something they are to share only with each other and something that will bring a deep and intimate knowledge reserved only for a spouse.
Sex is a means of pleasure and intimacy, but also has the purpose of procreation. Through the joyful act of sex God works through us to create new life.
These five points provide a framework for a biblical understanding of sex.
Culture and Sex
Our culture promotes a view of sex diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches. This is a view that makes sex appear as little more than a biological function like breathing or urinating. In this view men have a sexual appetite they must fulfill and hence they hunt around much like a male dog seeks out a female who is in heat. Like a dog, a man can barely even help himself from fulfilling his craving. Television and movies now portray women in a similar light – as sexual creatures who are able to separate love and marriage from the act of sex. Yet biblical sexuality is far different.
Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 brings wisdom that reads more like a commentary on this passage than a translation of it. “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever–the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.” And not only do we violate our own bodies, but the bodies of those with whom we have sex. Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s intent.
Perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on sexuality is found in the Song of Solomon. This book portrays a man and woman who are desperately in love with each other. “These two desperately desire to be together, but not simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love. Their mutual attraction is not primarily hormonal. It is primarily relational” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 85). The sex that is so beautifully depicted in Song of Solomon, (the great sex!), is founded primarily on relationship, not technique or the mere fulfillment of animal urges. The consummation of the sexual act is only one place on a long continuum filled with relationship, loving words, expressions of desire and finally physical intimacy. If we were to read Song of Solomon as a textbook on how to have sex we would misread Solomon’s intent. The book is a guide on how to build a loving, intimate relationship. It shows a view of sexuality that is far different from what we see on television or the movies. It is love that leads to sex rather than sex that leads to love.
God’s purpose in sexuality, then, is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings, and this is a large part of what makes marriage so unique.
God’s plan for sex is clear and so is God’s expectation for how we will use this gift. If we recklessly violate this gift we ought to expect to suffer consequences. The book of Proverbs makes this clear: “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:27-32). There are always consequences to sin. If we want to be people who honor God and if we want to avoid the consequences of sin by avoiding sin, we must be people who think deeply about issues, and even issues as difficult as this one.
In our next article we will build upon this theology of sex and discuss autoeroticism.